Arbitrary round numbers

ARBITRARY ROUND NUMBERS…. A few weeks ago, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) saw the CBO score his health care reform proposal at $1.6 trillion over the next 10 years. He responded by promising to cut the bill by $600 billion, so it would get a $1 trillion price tag.

Why not $1.1 trillion? Or $1.05 trillion? Because, apparently, senators like round numbers. It’s completely arbitrary, and it seems foolish to pick a price first and then shape a policy around it, but the drive continues.

The true cost of the Senate’s eventual healthcare reform bill must be under $1 trillion if it’s to win bipartisan support, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said Monday.

Seemingly setting a barometer for Republican participation in a final deal, Grassley, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, said that the price tag and the inclusion of a public (or “government-run”) option for consumers could be dealbreakers for the GOP.

“It has to be there [at $1 trillion] or under, I think, in order to get a bipartisan agreement,” Grassley said during an appearance on Bloomberg News. “I think it has to be there or under to be explainable to the people.”

Putting aside the increasingly-painful notion that “bipartisan agreement” is more important than the policy itself, I haven’t the foggiest idea what Grassley is talking about. $1 trillion over 10 years is “explainable to the people,” but $1.1 trillion or $1.2 trillion isn’t?

The same thing happened in February during the stimulus debate. Democrats were on board with the president’s proposal, but to overcome Republican obstructionism, Sens. Snowe, Collins, and Specter (a Republican at the time) demanded significant cuts to the size of the recovery package. They were, of course, completely unserious about the process — they wanted a smaller number, just so they could say it was smaller. They eyed $100 billion in cuts, not because of specific provisions they deemed ineffective, but because $100 billion had a nice ring to it. They were thrilled to fall under an $800 billion ceiling, not with a policy goal in mind, but because $800 billion sounded “reasonable.” (Maybe the figure made it more “explainable to the people.”)

It’s an absurd way to try to govern.